Film festival, sponsors respond to ‘Rachel’ controversy
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Statement from the SFJFF, July 22:
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival launches its 29th festival this week with an exciting array of 71 films from 19 countries. We welcome Dana Doron as Board President, who succeeds Shana Penn. Doron, who has served as Vice President of the Board, is a marketing executive, Stanford MBA and a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel. Penn, who has provided outstanding service as Board President, will continue to serve as a Board member.
“I continue to support the goals and mission of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the forum for cultural expression that it provides,” Penn stated. “The Festival has a justified reputation as an important institution in the Jewish community and beyond. But with healthy differences on how to approach sensitive issues, the Board, staff and I feel I can best serve SFJFF’s outstanding mission as a Board member rather than as its President.”
Executive Director Peter L. Stein added, “We commend Shana for her excellent service, and are truly excited to welcome our community to a stellar festival.”
An important message from the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, including an update on the July 25 screening of the film “Rachel”
SFJFF Mission Statement:
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival promotes awareness, appreciation and pride in the diversity of the Jewish people. Festival programs are meant to create community and strengthen consciousness of Jewish identity, history and culture, provide a dynamic and inclusive forum for exploration of and dialogue about the Jewish experience, and encourage independent filmmakers working with Jewish themes.
Over 29 years, the Festival has earned an international reputation for presenting a remarkable array of films to an exceptionally diverse audience that welcomes the opportunity to be entertained, touched, educated, and challenged. As a Jewish cultural and arts organization, we present films that sometimes include a significant dosage of self-criticism, which seems to be a hallmark of our people; every year, the Festival faces tough decisions about what belongs in or does not belong in our program, not least with respect to films about Israel.
This year we are offering more films than ever before that focus on, celebrate, or inform us about Israel, including films about the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Gilad Shalit and Ehud Goldwasser, and their families. Taken together, these 37 films touch on a wide range of emotions, ideas, viewpoints, and themes. One film selection, “Rachel,” has become the subject of much criticism.
We stand by the decision to show the film “Rachel.” The story of Rachel Corrie, an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and her death under disputed circumstances in Gaza, are relevant for all of us who care about Israel. It is made by a Jewish citizen of Israel and will receive its Israeli premiere at the prestigious Haifa International Film Festival this October.
When we invited Rachel Corrie’s mother, Cindy Corrie, to respond to questions and answers following the film in open dialogue with the audience, we underestimated how polarizing this decision would be to many members of our broad community, especially in the absence of other viewpoints about the work of the International Solidarity Movement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dividing, let alone antagonizing, members of our community was never the Festival’s intention.
We apologize for not fully considering how upsetting this program might be, and are taking the following steps to ameliorate the situation:
We believe that, along with Cindy Corrie’s participation, offering our audience an additional perspective at the screening is appropriate, given the especially contested nature of its subject matter. We have invited Dr. Michael Harris, a founder of the grass roots advocacy group SF Voice for Israel, to speak to the audience immediately prior to the film and to provide a perspective that many in our community are concerned may not otherwise be available in the film or in the post-film discussion with our guest. While it is challenging to reformat the “Rachel” event at this late date without alienating one or another major segment of our community, we are confident that our audience will accept both speakers – Dr. Harris and Ms. Corrie – with courtesy and respect.
We also are using our experience with this controversy as instructive in our self-evaluation and future planning. We believe that fostering dialogue and being open to different viewpoints is an inherently Jewish value, one that we try to cultivate in our programs. But there are no easy formulas when it comes to presenting controversial programming within an artistic festival that serves a diverse community. Fortunately, our Board and staff will have time between this year’s Festival and next to talk with key stakeholders and partners, developing the best approaches that will continue to protect the quality and the integrity of the Festival, draw the broadest cross-section of our community to our programs, stimulate filmgoers, and address major potential controversies with utmost care and forethought.
Finally, some confusion has arisen about the role of co-presenters at our Festival, including those for the film “Rachel.” After films have been selected by our program staff, the Festival invites promotion partners to assist in our outreach efforts to diverse communities of interest who may wish to attend. This year 57 community organizations are co-presenters during the course of the Festival; they do not fund or program the events.
Thank you to all the members of our community who support the Festival in so many ways. We look forward to an outstanding Festival this year and hope you will join us.
Read SFJFF’s prior statement about the decision to program the film: http://fest.sfjff.org/sites/default/files/docs/SFJFF_statement_on_RACHEL.pdf
Statement from the Koret and Taube Foundations:
As staunch champions and allies of Israel, the Koret and Taube Foundations do not support any organization that promotes or provokes anti-Israel sentiment; nor do we provide funding to any organization whose mission runs counter to our position. While we have made no decision regarding future funding of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, we take issue in particular with three egregious errors in its upcoming presentation of the film, “Rachel”:
- It is partnering with Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee, two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic groups that support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Both are closely associated with the International Solidarity Movement and other groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish State. These groups cross the line for inclusion in the Jewish community.
- The film festival made a conscious choice to present a film that lays blame for the accidental death of a civilian at the door of the State of Israel. We are deeply saddened by loss of life, most notably the countless Israeli lives lost and interrupted by virtue of service to their country. Presenting the story of a girl who put herself in harm’s way in no way advances our community dialogue. In fact, it threatens our community purposes.
- Finally, we are appalled at the film festival’s decision to invite Cindy Corrie into our community. This bereaved mother cannot help but have a negative bias toward Israel. Why would a Jewish organization hand her a microphone and a soapbox from which to condemn Israel as Jewish audiences are expected to sit and listen politely? There is no possible counterbalance to a grieving mother.
Those who cavalierly fling Israel’s future into the grasp of those who would destroy it betray a mainstay of the mainstream Jewish community to support Israel and to counteract anti-Israel propaganda events, speakers and organizations. In this case, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has aligned itself with the wrong side.